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Photo: ‘Welcome to Chippendales’
‘Welcome to the Chippendales’ is a fiery new original series on Hulu, created by Robert Spiegel and starring Kumail Nanjiani, Murray Barlett, and Juliette Lewis. It’s about the disturbing true story involving the beginnings of the Chippendales, perhaps the most famous male dance group in the world. Before going into this series, I only knew about the famous group in the abstract: who they were, and the dances they provided. However, I didn’t know about the creator Somen Banerjee, the Emmy Award-winning choreographer, and director Nick De Noia, and the murders of multiple parties involved. Lack of knowledge beforehand added to my enjoyment, as I feel like I’m learning a lot about a part of entertainment history that is equal parts important and bizarre.
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There are some more obvious things that make this series shine. The directing is meticulous: it features plenty of quick zooms and whip pans during the extended musical montages, invoking the era of 80s filmmaking. When the cinematography is methodical, it’s quiet and brooding, perfectly capturing the air of lurid nightlife and the difficult people putting it together behind the scenes. When it’s energetic, the shots are big and wide, emphasizing the intensity of the dance routines and dance practices of the Chippendales. The purposeful dating of the time the series takes place is finished by peppering late 70s and early 80s songs throughout its run. With all that said, there are also some more subtle things at work through this series that elevate it to something great. The acting, the story, and the lessons learned (or not learned) during this creative interpretation of a real-life event.
‘Welcome to Chippendales’ – Acting
There are so many actors that need highlighting in this series. Specifically two of them. Murray Barlett is unrecognizable as larger-than-life Nick De Noia, a talented yet troubled choreographer who had already done plenty of notable things in his career. With Nick feeling like he had already peaked in his career (via early shots in Episode Two of him sulking around his apartment watching his acclaimed previous project ‘Unicorn Tales’), Bartlett imbues him with a certain level of existential frustration and ennui. However, when he’s in front of others, Bartlett makes sure to play him with all smiles and fake confidence. This dissonance creates a very dynamic and relatable person who had an enormous personality, manifesting in his relationships and his work.
Kumail Nanjiani as Bengali immigrant Somen “Steve” Banerjee is just as good. Affable enough that the audience wants his idea to succeed, but sly enough to fall from grace with the audience when he lies and hurts others to better himself and his prospects, Somen exists in somewhat of a gray area. Nanjiani initially plays Somen as someone who appears meek and lets himself be condescended to. However, this is just a front: as soon as Somen gets to talking about his dreams and aspirations, Nanjiani perfectly shows this man to have a fiery ambition dwelling beneath the surface. Whenever he sees his vision coming to fruition, we can see him ruminating about what it’ll do for him and the dance troupe. His first meeting with the brilliant accountant and future wife Irene (played by Annaleigh Ashford), he genuinely cares about her and her suggestions to improve the Chippendales. Some of these things seem contradictory: and yet Nanjiani makes it make sense. Both these performances made me feel like I understood these people, and who these people wanted to be.
After watching this show, it feels like this story is an important one to know about. ‘Welcome to the Chippendales’ is about a world often harshly judged by people not in it. As primarily a drama, the show had some baseline level of responsibility to show the world of male dancers as it is. This included the good, the bad, and everything in between. The ongoing narrative balances these things well. One minute, it feels like the people involved are all getting an opportunity to be a part of something big. Another minute, it feels like Somen and Nick are exploiting others and letting all the newfound success get to their head.
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In a series of events that feels too crazy to be true, it’s that much more important for the narrative to stay grounded in its portrayal. The story handles all of this real-life cartoonishness very delicately. In the beginning, con artist Paul Snider is introduced and is shown through his choices to be overly slimy. Most of this person’s traits seem exaggerated and almost unreal. However, actor Dan Stevens knows to tone his performance down in just the right places to ground some of the person’s otherwise cartoonish qualities. Therefore, when he makes a decision in line with his personality, it seems more believable, and therefore makes the overarching narrative as a whole more believable.
I personally think there’s a lot to learn from this story. A tale of the beginnings of a business like this one is always a tale of ego, sometimes multiple conflicting ones. The founder of said idea or business ends up becoming arrogant after its success, affecting their life in both extremely positive and extremely negative ways. Somen’s life is no exception, with his newfound success making him act differently, sometimes positively and sometimes disingenuously.
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Many shows and movies have retold stories with similar ideas. However, this show makes the lessons feel enjoyable and new. The people Somen surrounds himself with changes, which contributes to the changes he goes through internally. He clashes with Nick De Noia, Paul Snider, and Dorothy Stratten because of the Chippendales’ success. Occasionally, they also fight back, adding neuroses of their own to this high-stakes venture. Despite the familiar lessons, I’m still constantly wondering how the story will progress.
This is a fascinating new series that has only just begun. It brings to life issues of ego, greed, and classic life lessons such as humbling oneself and staying kind after achieving success. The acting keeps this message engaging, with everyone (especially Kumail and Murray) at the top of their acting games. If you don’t know about the real-life story of the Chippendales and how they came to be, each new episode will reveal something incredibly surprising to you. That’s how a series should be. The next episode for this great new series will debut on the 29th of November.
Creators: Robert Siegel
Actors: Kumail Nanjiani, Murray Bartlett, Dan Stevens, Annaleigh Ashford, Juliette Lewis
Director: Matt Shakman
Writers: Robert Siegel, Rajiv Joseph, Annie Julia Wyman
By Zachary DePiore
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